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What is mold?

Molds are microscopic fungi that thrive on moist or damp areas to grow. This includes fungi such as mushrooms and yeasts. When present in clothing, it is often times referred to as mildew. They are part of the natural environment: spoiled food contains molds, decaying leaves rot because of them and wet fabrics left in a damp place develop musty odors due to the presence of these fungi.

They are useful to people in many ways. For instance, the penicillin drug is derived from a specific mold type. Various types of mold are used to produce various chesses, alcohols, and chemicals used in different industries. However, extensive mold growth, especially inside a building, can be harmful to people.

Household molds can damage furniture and clothing. It is important to recognize the presence of molds at home early on to avoid developing allergic reactions to these microscopic fungi.


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What does mold look like?

Mold can look white, gray, black, brown, yellow or greenish. Mold colonies may appear cottony, velvety, granular, leathery and glassy.


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What causes mold to develop?

Mold needs these conditions before it can begin to grow inside a building:

  • Mold spores
  • A food source (e.g. wood, drywall, cotton)
  • Darkness (mold can’t grow under ultraviolet light)
  • Warmth (mold can’t grow in freezing temperatures)
  • Oxygen
  • Moisture (e.g. water leaks, humidity, condensation)

Accordingly, moisture is really the key cause of mold growth since the other conditions on the list are always going to be present in homes.


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How do I know if I have mold?

There are three basic indications that you may have a mold problem:

1) A musty, earthy or mildewy odor. You may notice the odor in a specific area of the property. Sometimes mold lives behind walls, behind wallpaper or underneath carpeting so you may not immediately associate the smell with mold.

2) The appearance of mold: Some mold growth is visually obvious and easy to distinguish. However, sometimes mold may just look like discoloration on the wall or you might notice some water marks indicative of moisture behind the walls. If either of these scenarios are the case, mold may be the culprit.

3) Health symptoms: If you feel listless, congested and experience watering of the eyes while in your home or business, these can all be signs of presence of mold. It is not uncommon for a person who lives in a that has mold to feel better while our of the home and suddenly feel ill the minute they step through their front door.

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How does mold get into a building?

Molds are decomposers of organic material such as wood, plants and animals. Mold and mold spores are found in high concentrations wherever there is dead matter such as a pile of leaves, manure or compost.

Outdoor mold spores commonly can enter a building through the air or by becoming attached to people, animals, or other materials that are moved into a building. Mold spores are very small and cannot be seen with the naked eye. A spore is a mold colony’s “seed” and is released natural into the environment to colonize. Spores are resilient and are built to with stand extreme environments so the spread of colonization reaches a larger area. Once the mold spores settle on to a viable substrate they will grow into a mold colony. A visible mold colony can house millions of spores. An area the size of a postage stamp can contain up to 65,000,000 (65 million) spores. This is more than enough to potentially spread across the interior of a property and cause mold growth where conditions are ideal.


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How can I prevent mold from growing?

Mold Prevention Tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Keep the humidity level in your home between 40% and 60%. Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months and in damp spaces, like basements.
  • Be sure your home has enough ventilation. Use exhaust fans which vent outside your home for kitchens and bathrooms. Make sure your clothes dryer vents outside your home.
  • Fix any leaks in your home’s roof, walls, or plumbing so mold does not have moisture to grow.
  • Clean up and dry out your home thoroughly and quickly (within 24 – 48 hours) after flooding.
  • Add mold inhibitors to paints before painting.
  • Clean bathrooms with mold-killing products.
  • Remove or replace carpets and upholstery that have been soaked and cannot be dried promptly. Consider alternatives to carpet in rooms or areas such as bathrooms or basements that may have a lot of moisture.

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Are there harmful and non-harmful molds?

There are only a few molds that can cause infection in healthy humans. Some molds cause infections only in people with compromised immune systems. The biggest health problem from exposure to mold is allergy and asthma in susceptible people. There are more than 100,000 types of mold. Good information has been developed for only a small number of these molds – at least in terms of their effects on human health. Most people tolerate exposure to moderate levels of many different molds without any apparent adverse health effects.

Some molds produce powerful chemicals called “mycotoxins” that can produce illness in animals and people. Scientific knowledge about the health effects of these toxins on humans is quite limited.


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Does mold affect everyone the same way?

No..

In fact only about 20% percent of the human population is naturally sensitive to mold. However, the rest of the population can also develop sensitivity if exposed to high concentrations of mold for a long time.

Some individuals have a genetic makeup that puts them at risk for developing allergies to mold. People who have an allergy to mold, especially if they also have asthma, can become ill from exposure to a small amount of mold. Individuals also seem to be quite different in their response to exposure to the toxic chemicals that some molds release. These differences between individuals contribute to the difficult question of determining safe exposure limits for mold


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How much exposure is harmful?

No one knows the answer to this question for several reasons. Individuals are very different with respect to the amount of mold exposure they can tolerate. Children under the age of one year may be more susceptible to the effects of some molds than older individuals. Measuring or estimating “exposure” levels is very difficult. “Exposure” means the amount of mold (microscopic spores and mold fragments) that gets into a person usually by breathing, but also by eating or absorption through the skin. For example, a building may have a lot of mold in the walls but very little of that mold is getting into the air stream. In that case the people working or living in that building would have little mold exposure.


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Can mold exposure cause brain damage or death?

Although some “experts” claim that individuals have brain damage or have died because of exposure to mold and especially mold toxins, there is no good science at this time to support these claims. Consequently it is prudent to minimize one’s exposure to really moldy environments. By “really moldy” we mean where there are large visible areas of mold (more than a few square feet) or the building has a “musty” odor because of hidden mold growth. There are many epidemiological studies showing that people who live in houses with dampness have many more health problems, especially respiratory, than do people who live in dry houses. This association does not “prove” that it is the mold that is responsible for the increase in illness. However, it does support the assertion that it is not wise to live in damp, moldy buildings.


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